Looking back, it’s now clear that Jeff Bridges has always been one of our most overlooked actors. At least as far back as The Last Picture Show (1971) and Fat City (1972), all the way through the one I saw today, Crazy Heart, he’s put together an impressive body of good work on film. In the middle of these two ends there have been a few …shall we say, less than vital movies?: Lolly Madonna-XXX (1973) and The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996)!! More than offset by the stunning The Iceman Cometh (1973), the controversial Heaven’s Gate (1980), which I loved, the obligatory Vietnam war-era movie that was Cutter’s Way (1981), American Heart (1992), which this latest movie called to mind. And who can forget “The Dude” from The Big Lebowski (1998)? Bridges is a natural actor, a take life as it comes guy. This is a tremendous asset.
Bridges plays a talented country singer (Bad Blake) who is coming to the end of his time, having frittered away the years in a drunken stupor attempting to live up to his name, with four broken marriages along the way. Now he’s reduced to playing bowling alleys. [Dude!] Colin Farrell (only a brief appearance as Tommy Sweet) plays his disciple, who has far eclipsed him in recognition and earning power.
Farrell sang his own songs in the movie, and it’s hard to find him listed in the credits. This was at his request, and although a minor role in the film, a nice gesture. Robert Duvall makes a brief appearance as well, but its Maggie Gyllenhaal and Bridges who make the film work so well. There’s a climactic scene between the two, where she removes herself from her body and looks through Blake. Steels herself for what she has to do. This must be one of the hardest things to do as an actor. Imagine. Acting itself is just this form of distancing from your own personality to make way for another, so the kind of human emotion that requires the same sort of thing in ‘real’ life must be a complicated process. Anyway, she is very, very good here.
Bridges and Farrell look damn authentic as country singers – Bridges in his best Kristofferson mode and Farrell as…I don’t know who, but not bad. Not bad at all.
T-Bone Burnett kicked country ass with the score for this film, and singer-songwriter Ryan Bingham should get a career boost from the music as well.
**SPOILER** – Kudos to the filmmakers for not glossing it with a “Hollywood” ending. This is much more authentic, real, and ultimately more human and satisfying. Redemption comes sometimes, not from where you hope, but from within.